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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Six Traits Every Writer Must Develop

Alton Gansky is the author of 43 books or so and director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference held each May in North Carolina. There he teaches and mentors and looks for new talent.

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Writing is one of those rare things that is both an art and a craft. Art is applied creativity usually meant to share with others. Craft is the skill used to create the art. A painter must be able to do more than envision the finished work, she must also have developed the necessary technique to move a mental picture to the canvas, or sculpt a three dimensional image. Some are gifted with the ability to conjure up great ideas but lack the craft, the skill necessary to bring the idea to life. Writers must be able to do both.

Here are six traits, six qualities, every writer should possess:

1. Fearless imagination. This is the ability to conceive a plot, recognize an important subject for an article, or discern a much needed topic for a devotion. Fearless imagination means:
  • a. A willingness to ask "what if" questions and then spend sometime thinking about the answer.
  • b. An ability to shut out the negative voices in our head or in our social and family circles.
  • c. A willingness to have more ideas than can be produced by a single author.
  • d. An ability to be honest enough with one's self to say, "On further review, this idea stinks," and toss it aside. If you allow yourself the privilege of having many, many ideas, some of them are bound to be losers. Recognize them. Call them for what they are. Move on to the next idea. Diamond miners move tons of useless rock to discover a few precious gems.

2. Commitment to the process. Writing is a process. Book length work takes time to create. A lot of time. Even short form pieces like articles can be time consuming and research intensive. Commitment to the process means:
  • a. Having the ability to maintain enthusiasm over the long haul.
  • b. An understanding that writing involves other people and it takes time to jump through hoops.
  • c. A willingness to try and try again.
  • d. Knowing that receiving a rejection is not the same as receiving a diagnosis for a terminal disease. By the time you receive a rejection you should be well into your next project.

3. A willingness to fail. No one likes failing, but we all do it. Some of the most successful people are those who have a longer list of failures. To paraphrase (a very loose paraphrase) Teddy Roosevelt, "It is better to fail while attempting something great than be a cold and timid soul who knows neither victory nor defeat. A willingness to fail means:
  • a. Having a baseball mentality. In baseball, the best batters get a hit about 3 times out of every 10 at bats. In other words, as batters they have a 70% failure rate. That doesn't matter. What is important is the three times they get a hit. That's what people remember.
  • b. Knowing that failure is only permanent if you let it be or if it kills you (in which case it no longer matters).

4. A love of the language. There are readers who skim a book; there are readers who savor books. Writers tend to be the latter, pausing over an especially well-crafted sentence, scene description. This is true of fiction and nonfiction. Some of the best prose I've read I found in the pages of a nonfiction book or an article. Read a George Will column sometime. A love of language means:
  • a. Caring about the power of words to move the mind.
  • b. Committing to making your current work the best you've ever created. In the end you might fall short of that goal, but you renew the commitment on the next project.
  • c. Studying writers who have reached the highest pinnacle of the craft.
  • d. Reading to find what was done right, not looking for what the writer did wrong.
  • e. Knowing the learning of art and craft never ceases, and that's a good thing.

5. Knowing that trying and failing is superior to failing to try.

6. Flexibility. Everything changes. Sometimes the change is fast and unexpected; sometimes we see it coming. In either case, the successful writer knows how to bend so as not to break.

What qualities do you think a successful writer should have?


  1. Thank you for the great insight and the reminder that failure is a step to success. Searching ourselves for these traits and keeping them sharp will only enhance our skills.

  2. Love the thought to look for what's right instead of wrong...

  3. I really appreciated this post today, particularly #s 2 & 3.


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